Delphi and the Dragon

“Know thyself”.

-Delphic Maxim

We know that “delph” means “womb”, and this is the reason why the dolphin (“delphi” in Greek), sea creature (the waters were associated with the amniotic fluid) provided with a womb, was considered by the Greeks as a symbol of the female principle and the womb from which life is generated. Poseidon, if seen as the god of the “watery abyss of the sky”, the Universe, has the dolphin among his sacred animals, because the Universe is the eternal and infinite womb that contains all the forms of life that have been, that are and that will be, the womb from which new life is unceasingly and eternally generated.

Minoan Art:
25-crete_2_fs11-il-ragazzo-sul-delfino

Delphi (“Delphoi” in Greek), the Greek city in antiquity known as “navel of the world”, was mostly famous for the presence of the oracle of the god Apollo (that had among his epithets the one of “Delphinius” since in certain occasions he acquired the form of that animal sacred to him), the Oracle of Delphi, the most important of the archaic Greek religion.

Ruins of the Oracle of Delphi:
delphi

Under the floor of the oracular temple was located the Omphalos (“navel”), the sacred stone that had the function of center of the world.

The Omphalos, with its net of bee shaped symbols, resembles a beehive (both the child that went inside the burial mound/beehive – bringing honey with him to face the initiation – and the sorceress or priestess that was already inside it were symbolically compared to bees):

Example of nuraghe, a bronze age megalithic building typical of Sardinia:
Risultati immagini per nuraghe goni

So “delphi”, the name of the city, means “womb”, and the city was defined “navel of the world”; the navel was archaically a symbol of the labyrinth, i.e. of the cave or burial mound that in turn represented the womb of the earth: there is therefore a symbolic connection between the name of the city and its epithet.

Representation of an archaic labyrinth:
trojeborg_nordisk_familjebok

The Oracle of Delphi was originally a cave (i.e. the cave of the she-bear later replaced by the burial mound), a stomion or stoma (word that designated in particular the mouth, the uterine orifice and the opening of a cave [i.e. an opening], moreover it was often used in reference to the realm of the dead) guarded by the dragon or serpent (in Greek “dràkon” means both “dragon” and “serpent”) Python, or by the dragoness Delphyne (again a name that contains “delph”, “womb”), as it seems from the most archaic version of the myth: the dragon often symbolizes the umbilical cord, therefore, in the case of Delphyne, we have a symbolism that includes both the womb and the umbilical cord. Python or Delphyne is killed by Apollo (the divine child that accomplishes the initiatory ritual of rebirth: in the mythologies the killing of the dragon symbolizes the resolute and violent conclusion of the maternal phase of existence, by means of the “killing” [i.e. severing] of the umbilical cord that unites the mother to the child), who later creates in place of the cave the Oracle of Delphi presided by the Pythia, the priestess identified as “delphic bee”.

The Omphalos (“navel”), that according to the Greeks would have been Python’s grave, could therefore symbolize the matrix of life intended as womb of rebirth in a higher sense, in a transcendent context of initiatory reincarnation within a noble ancestry.

***

The serpent or dragon is the obstacle that the heroes of the mythologies encounter during their search for the source of immortality, and it is always the guardian of trees, graves – like the Miðgarðsormr (Miðgarðr [“middle earth”, the burial mound] serpent”]) that lies deep in the ocean (i.e. the amniotic liquid) – and treasures (like that of the Nibelungs [“people of the mists”, i.e. the ancestors], hidden in the bottom of a lake).

The Cup of Hygieia and the Caduceus of Hermes: both symbolize the Tree of Life intertwined by one or more serpents, i.e. a placenta with the umbilical cord, which has an intertwined shape:
1010170066simbolo_caduceo
Immagine correlata785393372d4f249a14850c2639e9bb9a

Immortality, intended as rebirth or more precisely reincarnation, is hard to obtain and a necessary condition is always the reaching of an almost inaccessible place that symbolizes the realm of death, i.e. the cave or burial mound, where a serpent or dragon guards a tree whose fruits, or an object hanging to it, will grant immortality if obtained: the heroes of the mythologies have to fight the monster – and prevail – to gain access to the tree. This fight should be realised inwardly in the sense of an initiatory ritual of rebirth: we can find a similar pattern in numerous myths, like in the one of Jason and the Golden Fleece, in the one of Heracles and the Golden Apples of the Hesperides, in the one of Sigurd and Fafnir (in this case the dragon guards a treasure [i.e. the goods with which has been buried the divine ancestor] functional to trigger the metaphysical intuition of the child, and the hero becomes omniscient [thanks to the awakening of the memories of his previous lives] after killing his nemesis), in the one of Indra and Vritra (in this case the dragon confiscates all waters and keeps them inside a mountain) and in the one of Adam and Eve in Paradise.

Heracles fights against Ladon, the serpent that guards the Golden Apples of the Hesperides:
herakles_ladon_staatliche_antikensammlungen_sl89

The fight of the hero with the serpent or dragon isn’t always of the physical type and sometimes the latter prevails, like in the cases of Gilgamesh and Adam.

Gilgamesh, after the death of Enkidu, decided he wanted to obtain immortality and headed towards the dwelling of Utnapishtim, a man to which the gods conferred the gift of immortality; the hero overcomes every preliminary obstacle and meets the wise old man, but fails the tests that the latter imposes on him, thus proving to be unworthy of the immortality of the gods. At that point appeared the wife of Utnapishtim, which convinced her husband to reveal the existence, in the bottom of the ocean, i.e. the amniotic fluid, of a plant full of thorns and difficult to access, which had the power to extend indefinitely the youth and life of those who would have eaten it. Gilgamesh manages to obtain it but during the return home he stops near a water source: meanwhile a serpent approaches and grabs the plant, renewing its skin immediately after eating it.

A Greek myth in some ways similar is the one of Glaucus son of Minos, which as a child fell inside a jar full of honey and died; he was found by the seer Polyidus to which Minos ordered to bring back to life the child, and both were locked up inside a grave together with a sword. A serpent tried to get closer to the child’s body and Polyidus killed it with the weapon, but promptly a second serpent placed a herb on the body of the other, that immediately came back to life: Polyidus, having observed the scene, took the same herb and applied it on Glaucus’s body, which in no time at all came back to life.

Note: an important symbolism related to the serpent is that of the Ouroboros, i.e. the figure of the serpent that bites its own tail: it expresses the concept of cyclical eternity, infinite time, circularity without beginning or end and eternal rebirth.

1d7e526628689252e669ad39bad8c050

Therefore both Gilgamesh and Adam lost immortality due to their naivety and the astuteness of a serpent: the accomplishment of the initiation ritual ended in failure.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s